Is there a difference between tactics and strategy? On paper, there definitely is otherwise one of the words would have been removed from the English lexicon centuries ago. I posit this question because to clear up the difference between the two terms is to gain a better understanding of the sort of game Chimera Squad wants to be.
I think the difference comes down to scale.
Strategy is a term often used to describe plans that reach out into the future, far beyond their moment of inception. On the other hand, I think tactics better fits the minute-by-minute decisions that govern most battles. Sure, the differentiation seems obvious when you write it like that but so many people use them interchangeably, especially in the realm of video games, that I think it’s easy to forget what they represent.
As for XCOM: Chimera Squad, the game represents a shift for the franchise, an experiment that plays with the meaning of those two tricky words we’ve been discussing. While still incorporating both into its core gameplay loop, the latest game in the XCOM series is far more focused on providing a sharper tactical experience over a strategic one, something that you’ll either appreciate or detest.
As for me, I adored every second of it.
You’re instantly made aware of how much smaller the stakes are in Chimera Squad, but that doesn’t mean they’re any less pivotal. Starting with the assassination of a key political figure in City 31, the controversial Chimera Squad is rolled in to help out the cops who just can’t handle an operation of that magnitude by themselves. Chimera Squad exists in a world of uncertainty and distrust, set after the revolution against alien colonisation in XCOM 2, and no one really knows what and who they stand for.
Many humans are still distrustful of aliens, most of whom have settled into a peaceful co-existence with humanity, while many other alien species still bear the prejudice against us lower life-forms. This theme of reparations between people that initially focused on tearing one another apart is always present in Chimera Squad, with your squad members often quipping about post-war life. It’s a theme that could have been discussed more but given the game’s shift in tone to something more breezy and less…doomsday, that would probably have been asking too much.
Speaking of the team, one of the more polarising differences in XCOM: Chimera Squad is the inclusion of voiced squad-members instead of the randomly generated soldiers you could recruit in previous games. There’s something sad about losing the ability to personalise your favourite troops, a lack of personalisation and attachment to a band of order-following goons that somehow seemed to develop their own personalities over time.
Chimera Squad ditches that player-fuelled fantasy for actual characters and while it’s admittedly more difficult to bond with a team that you can’t customise to your heart’s content, there’s something to be said about actually seeing some kind of in-game dynamic form outside of your influence. Chimera Squad’s troops feel separate from you, as the player. They feel like they belong in the world, like they have relationships with one another outside of combat which is exemplified by some quippy writing between encounters that can be a little hit-and-miss but generally provides some highly enjoyable flavour. The soldiers in previous XCOM games were an extension of the player but in Chimera Squad they actually behave like a squad of individuals taking orders from a commander.
So while there are strategic elements, such as manipulating certain districts in the city to avoid full-blown anarchy, Chimera Squad’s beefier content lies in the combat system…which has also changed. I feel like a broken record here, but the changes that have been implemented aren’t a downgrade or an upgrade but rather a shift to the side. The inclusion of a turn order for the first time extends my thinking that this game was more focused on tactics than strategy and the brief, albeit somewhat repetitive, breach sequences that begin every encounter act as an extra level of planning to help players swing the advantage to their side of the court.
Every combat scenario is broken into encounters, usually in three parts. Finishing one encounter will see the squad reset their positions and breach into the second area. It’s a segmented style of combat that players who enjoyed the sweeping chaos that many levels in XCOM 2 often devolved into won’t enjoy, but I found myself enjoying the faster, more focused situations. XCOM 2 could drag it’s combat out to such an extent that it became overwhelmingly dull but diving every fight into chunks alleviated that problem for me. Other than the turn order, which admittedly didn’t always feel like it belonged despite certain abilities that specifically influence your team’s placement, combat in Chimera Squad feels faster while not compromising on the tactical depth of previous games.
So while Chimera Squad is filled with elements that differentiate it from those that it spun off of, the one area of consistency is, unfortunately, bugs. In my time with the game I came across plenty of the little scamps, some just visual bumps in the road and others more frustrating. Some of the more mundane included characters clipping through cover, bizarre pathing and a particularly enjoyable nugget that saw one of my squad members somehow gain control of his personal gravity, standing on a plane of nothingness above the battlefield. The less fun glitches included two hard crashes that required me to restart my PC, one occurring just after overcoming a particularly brutal encounter before the game had time to save. One can only hope that Firaxis is working on some sort of hotfix for these issues because man, did that last fight take it out of me.
I suppose the continued problem with bugs and glitches is something that could represent what Chimera Squad is to the rest of the XCOM franchise: Different, yet still familiar. While there are certain changes that some will find unappealing and lacklustre, others will surely appreciate them for the experiments that they are. Whether this latest entry in the franchise has the same long legs as previous instalments is up for debate but I’ll admit that I enjoyed Chimera Squad. If you can set aside your expectations and appreciate that this particular XCOM is simply trying something new, you’re in for a fantastic time. Just be sure to save often, the last thing you want is that sparkly-eyed enthusiasm being crippled by a game-breaking glitch.
XCOM: Chimera Squad is a thoroughly enjoyable twist on the franchise, bringing some fresh ideas to the fore while still retaining the roots of the original game it draws from. There’s certainly fun to be had here if you’re able to overlook the occasional bug. – 8.0
Last Updated: May 4, 2020